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Winsted, McLeod County refute allegations of misconduct
March 9, 2015

By Ivan Raconteur

WINSTED, MN – Former Winsted residents Heather Swantek and Jesse Schafer delivered letters of complaint to the City of Winsted and McLeod County in February.

In the letters, Swantek and Schafer allege misconduct on the part of Police Chief Justin Heldt, City Attorney Fran Eggert, County Attorney Mike Junge, and Sheriff Scott Rehmann, and that officers entered their residence illegally in May 2014.

They further allege that the city and county have withheld public information.

Winsted City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt stated the city investigated the complaint, and found Police Chief Justin Heldt to be exonerated of the charges.

He stated that, per the city’s data practices policy, this is all the information he can share.

He explained Eggert is not the city’s prosecuting attorney, and was not even aware of the case involving Swantek and Schafer.

Rehmann stated he had not received a request for public information from Swantek or Schafer at the time the complaint was filed.

During Tuesday’s McLeod County Board meeting, Junge presented a letter he sent to Swantek and Schafer in response to their complaint.

The letter states “The claims of misconduct that you make in your complaint involve matters that took place during litigation and do not constitute the crimes of misconduct of a public officer or employee, or theft.”

The letter further states that if Swantek or Schafer wish to make a complaint about Junge or Rehmann, they may do so with the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board or the Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training, respectively.

The letter states “This is the response of McLeod County to your complaint, and no further action will be taken.

Officers enter residence

The complaint resulted from events that occurred May 13, 2014 at the residence at 510 Second Street South in Winsted.

According to court documents, McLeod County Deputy Craig Rossow went to the Winsted residence of Swantek and Schafer to serve eviction papers.

Upon arriving, Rossow noticed the back door was open.

After attempts to locate residents within the home were unsuccessful, Rossow requested backup from the Winsted Police Department “to assist him in entering the house to determine if there was an ongoing emergency.”

The deputy testified that in situations involving open doors, it is the policy of the sheriff’s office to enter a business or home to ensure community safety.

Heldt responded to Rossow’s request for backup.

According to court documents, “the officers could not determine why the door was open, but they believed that it potentially could be the result of a robbery or medical emergency.”

The officers searched all areas in the home large enough to contain a person.

During the search, the officers observed items that later tested positive for methamphetamine.

Swantek and Schafer were charged with possession of methamphetamine.

Schaefer pled guilty to a reduced charge.

Swantek contested the charges, and, during an evidentiary hearing in December, moved to suppress evidence obtained during the search, which she maintained was conducted illegally.

The court noted the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 1 Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution guarantee an individual’s rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Any search or seizure without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable, with certain exceptions.

One such exception provides that law enforcement officers “may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to prevent an occupant from imminent injury.”

The court stated that, to determine whether the emergency-aid exception is applicable, courts must employ a three-pronged test:

1) The police must have reasonable grounds to determine that there is an emergency at hand and an immediate need for their assistance for the protection of life or property.

2) The search must not be primarily motivated by intent to arrest and seize evidence.

3) There must be some reasonable basis, approximating probable cause, to associate the emergency with the area or place to be searched.

In this case, the court found “there were not objectively reasonable grounds for the officers to believe that an emergency was at hand or that there was an immediate need for assistance.”

The court granted Swantek’s motion to suppress the evidence, and the case was dismissed.

The court found that “the objects (a smoking device and mirror containing patches of a white, powdery substance) were in plain view and would have been admissible if not for the lack of justification for the initial intrusion.”

A behind-the-scenes look at law enforcement

Court documents in this case provide a detailed look at the actions of the officers in this case, and the decisions law enforcement officers must make in the course of their duties.

The documents also explain the points of law used by the court in evaluating the evidence.

Read the complete evidentiary order issued by Chief Judge Terrence Conkel by clicking the following link: Swantek court document

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